In most circumstances, it would be the most scathing of indictments, but when the formula in question has a thirty-year pedigree of (highly) consistent success, it’s another matter altogether. Passing familiarity with almost any preceding Killing Joke album lays the band’s calculus bare: Pounding “tribal” (lousy word, but the only one that seems apt) beats, lead-less grinding guitar riffs, a Grand Canyon’s worth of reverb, atmospheric electronics, and Jaz Coleman’s oddly melodic growl/scream slathered atop it all, sounding for all the world like a disc grinder attacking a brake drum. Oh, and of course, lyrical obsessions focused squarely upon mind control, government/capitalist repression, desperation, psychic pain, conspiracy, and other such jovial topics, nicely laced with subtle but telling sarcasm.
Yes, thirty years on since the eponymous debut’s standouts “Wardance” and “Requiem,” the KJ method is still holding strong. There have been missteps along the way – some decidedly dodgy late ‘80s/early ‘90s output, accompanied by listless live shows – but since 1994’s truly monumental Pandemonium, Killing Joke have been on a steady, inexorable, devastating roll, and they haven’t looked back.
Pandemonium marked KJ’s refinement of the aforementioned formula to the highest art. Savagery and beauty, cacophony and quiet, immediacy and distance, subtlety and brute force—all presented in near-perfect counterpoint and balance. Eardrum-perforating guitar skree offset by silken synth strings, face-pummeling kick and toms and subsonic bass underpinning and propelling the surface tumult—the method behind perfect, sublime madness. Each subsequent album has made only minor modifications to the Pandemonium master plan, taking evolutionary rather than revolutionary steps to keep artistic momentum going, keep the band current.
Which brings us to MMXII. If you’ve been paying even moderately close heed to the last 18 years of KJ-iana, there is nothing – repeat, nothing – here that will surprise you. The groundwork for every note and nuance present in MMXII has been foreshadowed in the preceding several albums; MMXII is the natural outgrowth of an organic process, the product of skilled musicians who have long since settled neatly into their optimal methods of working, but individually and in unison. And, as might also be expected, the results do not disappoint.
34 years into their career, Killing Joke are more than capable of delivering a swift kick to the face that legions of younger upstarts could only dream of. They allude to this, holding back just a bit, on the magisterial opening track “Pole Shift,” but “Fema Camp” cuts loose completely: A slow build to a bludgeoning bridge. The manic, chaotic, made-to-mosh “Rapture” blows the gates wide open, and for seven more songs you’re lost in the fucked-up funhouse hell that is ColemanLand. Not that the going is altogether smooth: “In Cythera” veers a little towards melodramatic indulgence, and the closing cut, “On All Hallow’s Eve,” is a rather punchless conclusion to what up to that point been a piledriver of a disc. These, however, are quibbles, and predicated as much on personal taste as anything else.
If you’ve had the taste to appreciate the singular, transcendent beauty of a disc such as 2003’s Killing Joke and good fortune to have been riveted by one of their better live shows, you know the pure rush that Killing Joke deliver. It’s music to get lost in, exult in, draw power from, be buried by. MMXII isn’t Killing Joke’s greatest – but it’s damned great, and a worthy addition to a storied canon. [Spine Farm]
-David B. Livingstone
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